Only the Strongest Survive

The Harpy Eagle, the largest of the eagles, is Panama's national bird. Image thanks to

The highlight of our otherwise routine Monday morning ceremony in which the entire school participated was the singing of the school song which we all learned from each other. The hymn to me had no real meaning, although it referred to something about “…being tranquil on the lap of the Paternal Father Ancon,” which was where our school was located- at the foot of Ancon Hill.

This reference was minor, however, in comparison to all that took place prior and after in this polemic area.  The famous Ancon Hill, just outside the back gates of the “Eagle’s Nest,” would later be the scene of many protests and manifestations on the part of aguiluchos in favor of Panama’s claiming the Panama Canal for the Panamanians.

The refrain, with its archaic verb “yergue” had the combined meaning of “the forming or molding” of the masses in that center of knowledge. Throughout the years I’d been a student there the words of that hymn meant little to me in so far as my own experience was concerned, or even remotely resembled any of the experiences that I later would have at that institution of learning. Years later, however, my social dynamics at this school would come to resemble my true experiences at the home of the Eagle’s Nest.

The biologists who study these gigantic birds of prey, especially, for instance, our own country’s national bird, the Harpy EagleAguila Harpía– report that, in nature, the female lays only two eggs at a time. Of this small clutch, however, only one eaglet will survive the constant and ferocious jockeying for food and attention from the stern but loving parents.  The attentive eagle parents, by the way, are extremely protective and assiduous with the care, cleaning and maintenance of their little ones.

But, they do spend many hours of the day away from the nest hunting for food to feed their offspring of ever hungry, scheming, fratricidal survivors. The parents seldom diminish their rhythm of hunting even if and when they return to find that only one youngster has remained to occupy the nest.  In an eagle’s nest there is only room for one offspring, one victor- the strongest and most implacable in nature.

It would be much later in life that I would come to understand why my spiritual or inner sense of survival would not permit me to return to the famous “Eagles’ Nest.” As it turned out, it wasn’t in my personality to violently compete with my siblings. The things that I cherished since early childhood was learning to read and to write,  something that I alone would know that I could excel in; the martial arts did not come into my sphere of learning at the time at all.

The “Eagle’s Nest” and what it came to signify would, therefore, hold no fondly cherished memories for me, only memories of combat. Then, again, perhaps the words of my dear teacher and mentor Ana Sanchez, came back to me, the words she had instilled in me as she got to really know me as a person back in the year of 1950.

At any rate, it was the 1952-1953 school year and it was quickly coming to an end.  I continued encouraging my classmates to come out and join my basketball team, the Black Hawks. We talked about our possibilities that year of winning the championship. “Come on muchachos,  let’s get into it- we can take them! Look at what we did last year,” I said to them, bringing them together in an attempt at espirit du corps.

Our gang then came together again to help each other with homework and the like just as we had done the previous year. Pretty soon the school announced the line up for the after school league and, again, I signed us up to play as the “Segundo Año B, Halcones Negros.”

No sooner had we started practice, however, that ugly rumors started circulating that some boy had started picking fights with that Negro “Chombo” Cobert Reid, Jr.   Actually, it was an interiorano student who happened to be doing poorly academically and he never did want to join our after school study group.  He would wait until our team was ahead and our practice game was almost won to pick a fight right in front of the league professor to stop the game.

Tired from running up and down the court and then having to ward off my assailant, I decided it just wasn’t worth the black eyes and swollen face. I wasn’t afraid of this guy but the fact remained that if I fought him, I was at risk of being thrown out of school for fighting.  It was my solitary black face that stood out in our crowd and the teachers really didn’t move fast enough to get involved.

Again, they were like the eagle parents who seemed to look the other way to leave the strongest or most favored of their brood to peck his sibling to death and throw him out of the nest.

In the end, I wound up looking for some other sport activity to take up my time.

This story will continue.

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